“Whether leaders are born or made, there is always room to improve.”


Harvard undergraduates are once and future leaders. To be a successful applicant to the College, students are expected to have gained leadership experiences in high school.  It is also the hope that after graduation, Harvard alumni will achieve positions of authority and influence.

It is the core belief of the Leadership Institute that leaders are developed – through practice, failure, and training – not made.  Yet, despite the connection between Harvard graduates and leadership positions, no program or training existed to develop the nascent leadership skills and provide opportunities to reflect on challenges and lessons. The hallowed classrooms across campus provide venues for academic growth, but not for specific leadership growth. Recognizing a demand for deliberate, thoughtful, and formal leadership education in and outside of Harvard’s campus, a group of undergraduates created the Leadership Institute at Harvard College (LIHC) in 2004-2005 as the fusion of several fledgling student organizations. By bringing together the individual groups that focused on leadership and communication among students, synergies developed and helped propel LIHC to the forefront of leadership training.  Today, LIHC is the premier leadership development organization at Harvard College.

Much of the work to unify the organization came as the fulfillment of a class project, in which the assignment to “find a way to improve the campus” became the motivation to create a coherent and structured approach to training these once and future leaders. Today, LIHC continues to offer more and better programming and aims to be in touch with students to determine the leadership needs and interests of Harvard undergraduates. The organization has won the recognition and esteem of the Office of Student Life for the work LIHC does on campus.

2004-2005: Founding,  Structuring, and Inauguration of Key Programs

This was a formative time for LIHC. The initial organization fused with another to create one entity with a focused vision for developing leadership on campus.  Although the two organizations had differing programming, the founding board carefully crafted a structure to smoothly merge the two bodies and set a plan in motion to incite change in the lives of Harvard undergraduates.  LIHC’s first major success was a Spring Leadership Conference featuring Harvard leadership instructors and researchers, consultants and leadership trainers, and many other industry professionals who shared their experiences and insights.

With new excitement and the support of many individuals in and outside of Harvard, the young organization kicked off the fall semester with initiatives on many fronts. In order to create collaboration on campus, LIHC held an event with more than sixty student leaders that marked the inauguration of The President’s Forum, Harvard’s first body to connect leaders on campus for improved communication and collaboration. Outside of Harvard, LIHC launched the Harvard Youth Leadership Institute, a pre-cursor to the Social Outreach committee that aimed to take leadership training to youths. Gaining the trust and confidence from a middle school to provide additional after-school programming proved to be a challenge, but efforts paid off as this program took off the ground. LIHC members soon began teaching students in grades 6-9 at a local Cambridge school. The semester concluded with a retreat for House Committee Chairs to learn and share, co-sponsored with the Dean’s Office.

2006-2007: Growth of Programming

As LIHC gained recognition around Harvard, many more opportunities and areas for growth appeared.  But with unlimited areas for growth and attention, LIHC had to set a focus for sustainability. The most important area for growth was its reach and impact to Harvard undergraduates.  Throughout this short time, LIHC put on numerous seminars, workshops, and skills sessions with Harvard faculty and outside resources.  The Leadership Development Series, a pre-cursor to the Leadership Development Initiative, began to provide not only more seminars, but also held large-scale events with leaders in many fields to demonstrate the application of leadership concepts in business, politics, etc.

The President’s Forum also held two events, including a large dinner for student leaders that revolved around a discussion of common challenges facing organizations on campus. The Harvard Youth Leadership Institute also ran its first full-semester curriculum with more than 30 graduates and 10 undergraduates participating in teaching. From the semester, middle school students learned about communication, ethics, and negotiation, culminating in a competition to run their own service ventures.

2008-2010: Outreach and Partnerships

As LIHC institutionalized and grew old projects, it also began to reach outward for new partnerships and opportunities. The Harvard Youth Leadership Institute project formalized into the Social Outreach Committee, which began partnerships with new middle schools. To secure funding and increase public relations efforts, the board also created the External Relations Committee (now the Strategic Development Committee) to focus on fundraising and publicity. In addition, with the goal of expanding and recording LIHC’s knowledge in a publication format, various contributors in LIHC helped to publish two issues of the Harvard Undergraduate Leadership Magazine (now the Harvard Leadership Magazine), marking the beginnings of the magazine committee. Meanwhile, LIHC secured a $50,000 grant from the Flora Family Foundation, created a Board of Advisors of graduate schools students to mentor LIHC members, and was chosen to become Harvard’s Official Ivy Council Representative to run the 2012 Ivy Summit Conference for 300 attendees.

2010-2015: Domestic and International Expansion

LIHC continued its growth, with many ventures domestic and abroad. In 2011, The Presidents Forum held a symposium for all  In 2010, Social Outreach was invited by The Bhutan Youth Development Fund to teach students in the South Asian country. After condensing its 10-week long curriculum for the middle schools into a week-long program, the committee traveled to Bhutan during the winter of 2011 and taught the program abroad for the first time. Following this, LIHC established the YOUth Lead the Change! (YLC) summer conference in Boston to teach a modified version of the curriculum to high school students in 2011. To ensure that its students would apply the lessons learned from the camp to make a difference, LIHC also established the Teen Changemakers Program in the same year and funded 5 YLC alumni to launch their own social entrepreneurship ventures.  The YLC program later traveled to the country of Myanmar in the winter of 2013, and will continue in Japan this summer. The magazine continued into its 7th issue, improving in content, design, and creativity with every issue. LIHC also ran a successful Ivy Summit at Harvard that saw some 300 students from all Ivy League institutions in attendance. Internally, LIHC continued to solidify its BoA program and is looking to develop an alumni board and a series of internal training programs for the coming semester.